Trees at Death

by Sue Goldstein

Poised at the precipice where life looks at the hole that death creates; where my mother’s body is suspended in the polished casket held by a lowering device, primed for the slow descent. The rabbi intones, declares, prays, and then produces a small plastic packet. Snips off a corner: “it’s from ‘the land of Israel,’” he says, pouring a small amount into my palm. I hold the stolen soil of Palestine and stare into the grave. Through tear-blocked eyes I watch as my hand slowly releases the dirt to fall onto the box.

Before I can even walk away, the woman from the funeral parlour approaches me, solemnly passing on to me an envelope. A procession of relatives and friends proceed to the edge of the grave, pick up the shovel and dump a little more dirt in. I hold my father up. Stare at nowhere in particular. Eventually we all turn and walk toward cars.

Later I open the envelope and find a certificate for a tree, planted in Israel in my mother’s name. A sense of violation and betrayal fills me. I did not ask for this. But in most Jewish circles, it’s assumed that of course, you would be happy to have a tree planted in honour of those who have died. They assume what your identity is. They presume this to be an “honour.” But there is no honour in colonization, occupation, and ethnic cleansing. This is what the Jewish National Fund (JNF) is a symbol of to me.

My mother died in 2002. Both Nablus and Jenin were under siege then. And because I’m Jewish I’m supposed to feel grateful that a tree — most likely one not indigenous to the region — is there on occupied land in her honour? The worst part was not having the capacity to confront this woman or the funeral home. Somewhere in a file folder, between funeral arrangements and death certificates, lies that envelope. That certificate for a tree. Though it is hidden, it is not dormant. That tree in my mother’s name grows on Palestinian land. Or is part of a forest to hold the land for further construction of Jewish-only something.

Trees don’t always mean life.